Animals Have More Sense


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times) As I turn the corner towards my house over 300 yards away,  my dogs start barking and cluster at the gate.  Apparently this is not at all uncommon  – hundreds of people say that their dogs behave almost as if they know when their owner is setting off for home and wait by the door even when the person is still miles away. Everyone who works and lives with animals has their own sixth sense stories.  Cats sense when they are to be taken to the vet.  Birds seem to forewarn the deaths of those around them. Instances of animals who howl several days before a death are too frequent to be a coincidence. There is the hospital cat who would snuggle up with patients destined to die that day. So many  pets who have found their way home from miles away in spite of never having been outside their own houses.
The devastating 2004 Tsunami renewed interest in the possibility  of a sixth sense in animals. One of the affected areas was Sri Lanka’s Yala animal reserve.  While tourists died here, virtually no animal carcasses were found. In fact, animals were reported to have started moving away  long before the tidal wave struck .  In Indonesia, herds of  elephants were seen moving to higher ground. Flamingoes at Point Calimere wildlife sanctuary abandoned their low lying nests for higher trees.
Animals’ ability to foretell natural disasters is legendary. In 373 B.C., historians recorded how the city’s rats, snakes and weasels, deserted Helice in Greece  just days before a quake devastated it.  Similar animal anticipation of earthquakes has been repeated over centuries. In September 2003 a Japanese  doctor made headlines with a study indicating how erratic behavior in dogs could be used to forecast quakes. Countless pet owners recount their cats and dogs acting strangely before the ground shook—barking or whining for no apparent reason, or showing signs of nervous restlessness. Catfish moving violently, chickens that stop laying eggs and bees swarming out of their hives, any unusual animal activity is reason enough to suspect something big and humans should take a cue from these warnings.  In 1975, noticing erratic animal behaviour, Chinese officials ordered the evacuation of Haicheng, a city with one million people, just days before a 7.3 magnitude quake. If not evacuated, fatalities could have exceeded 150,000. Similarly, dogs inexplicably howling through the night, caged birds displaying restlessness,  and cats going into hiding,  have been noted before major tremors including the 1994 California quake , and the Greek and Turkish quakes of 1999.
Animals have developed senses far beyond human comprehension. A pit viper is a snake with an elongated , arrow shaped head  and venomous fangs.  Long before you can see it , it can sense exactly where you are.  The unique pits that lie between its  eyes and nostrils pick up the infrared light given off by objects based on body temperature. Warm blooded animals are quickly detected by the snake affording it time to decide whether to attack or flee. 
Sharks  have something known as the ampullae of Lorenzini which are jelly filled tubules on their snout that contain small electric sensitive cells. These pick up the small electrochemical impulses that course through animal bodies when they move their muscles. Even staying still cannot escape detection for the heart is a muscle and its beat supplies information to the shark.    
Fish have a thin line of sensitive cells on their sides which sense movement, vibration and change in the direction of the current. Before storms and hurricanes, fish swim to safety. Polar bears in the Arctic receive advance warning about impending snowstorms and temperature changes by sensing electrostatic disturbances that herald a thunderstorm and take refuge long before it arrives
A certain amount of sixth sense comes simply from superior animal intelligence. Most species can interpret each others’ signals. Sensing a storm brewing at sea, a seagull returns to shore. Mainland monkeys  spot this and react. Their warning calls and scampering to safety alerts other jungle creatures. Thus animals survive many natural disasters which man with all his weather forecasting tools entirely fails to do.
 Cows are among the best known natural weather indicators.  Cows lying down in a field means rain is on the way, because sensing the moisture in the air, they are ensuring  they have somewhere dry to settle. Dogs lift their noses and sniff bad weather approaching . Random barking and  hiding under beds indicates a storm.  Fish are known to eat more before a downpour.  Cats increase their grooming activities when there's extra static  in the air, and horses are known to start running fast before  violent rain or winds.

Birds, turtles and salmon migrate to an exact spot continents away every year. Rodents and bats also seem have a magnetic compass.

Bees fly a straight course to flowers, even from as far as 6 kilometres away by using the plane of polarised light which means their eyes are able to follow those sun rays which shine in a fixed direction. Look at how fish rarely collide with each other underwater even in the dark. They dart away even if someone standing on the bank moves. This is because fish have a sensory organ on their flanks which registers even the slightest change in the flow of the water. These enable the fish to detect a nearby fin or even sound vibrations from above the water surface!

Homing pigeons and Monarch butterflies use tiny magnetic field-sensing materials in their bodies for navigation. Millions of minute compass-like magnetite crystals occur in a pod next to the pigeon's skull while in the butterfly the magnetite is distributed in the wings.

Whether it’s crystal balls or scientific research, humans invest millions in trying to see into the future. Animals’ effortless gift to do so challenges our boast of being God’s cleverest creation. In every way  animals can rightfully claim to have more sense than us.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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